Indian state television's decision to broadcast a speech by a hardline Hindu leader sparked a storm Saturday, with opposition parties accusing the right-wing government of setting a "dangerous" precedent.
The speech by the leader of the shadowy Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), made annually to mark the Hindu holiday Dussehra, was shown live Friday by public broadcaster Doordarshan for the first time.
The 70-minute telecast was headline news in Indian newspapers, with leading Mumbai daily DNA saying it "violates the public broadcaster's norms of non-partisanship".
Critics of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, elected by a landslide last May, have voiced fears about a rise in influence of Hindu hardliners in constitutionally secular but overwhelmingly Hindu India.
The RSS or National Volunteer Corps, known for its Nazi-style salutes and viewed as hostile to India's 160-million-strong Muslim minority, "is a controversial organization", said opposition Congress party spokesman Sandeep Dikshit.
The telecast set a "dangerous tradition," Dikshit said.
“The national public broadcaster is being misused,” declared D. Raja, national secretary of the Communist Party of India.
The BJP, whose hierarchy is peppered with figures with RSS links, said the speech contributed to patriotism and that the group promotes “justice for all”.
Modi was a youngster when he joined the RSS, which is described as the BJP's ideological parent and which campaigned heavily for the party in the election.
In his speech, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat described “Hindutva”, loosely translated as “Hinduness”, as an “unbroken current of national thinking”.
The speech was delivered before thousands of men in brown shorts, white shirts and black caps in the western city of Nagpur where the group was founded in 1925.
Doordarshan news director-general Archana Datta said the speech “was just like a news event to us so we covered it”.
But political author Ajoy Bose told AFP while the state broadcaster had a duty to “cover everything -- good, bad, ugly”, there is a “big difference between news coverage and giving publicity”.
Modi has insisted he will pursue economic growth rather than a Hindu religious and cultural agenda.
Separately Modi, an able social media user to convey his political message, has made his first radio speech to reach out to hundreds of millions of poor Indians with no TV or Internet.
Modi said he planned to make the broadcasts once or twice a month.SHOW MORE